Even though he wasn’t the next successor to someone like Eddie Van Halen or anything, his knack for writing incredible pop-friendly riffs helped turn the band into a global force that would wipe hair metal off the map in the early ‘90s.
For a brief time before Nirvana was a thing though, there was a small chance that Kurt could have joined another Seattle-based band who he idolized.
In an interview for Revolver, Melvins frontman Buzz Osborne spoke at length about playing with Kurt Cobain, but never quite understanding how his approach to his instrument worked, saying “We played music together all the time: me, him, Krist Novoselic, and Dale Crover. That’s why Dale ended up playing with Nirvana for a while.
Kurt wasn’t a very good guitar player, but it really didn’t make much difference. What he could do was put two chords together with a vocal melody in a way that people liked. Technical ability rarely has anything to do with making music.”
Even throughout Nirvana’s meteoric rise in the early 90’s, though, Cobain always maintained a fan-boy level of admiration for the Melvins. So much so that he was a producer of their album Houdini before ultimately getting fired.
The Melvins’ Buzz Osborne Explains why Kurt Cobain was fired from Houdini:
As Buzz remembers, it primarily had to do with things getting out of control, saying “During the last part of him being there, he was a mess, drug-wise. I went to Atlantic [Records], and said I couldn’t make it work with him. I had no interest in going public with Kurt’s problems – I didn’t feel it was anybody’s business – I just wanted him off the project.”
In a 2008 interview with Kerrang!, Buzz elaborated more on how the project came to be: “Houdini was the first album we did for Atlantic Records and certainly our biggest-selling record, although not so much that I could put a down-payment on a new Rolls or something!
It came on the whole tidal wave of Nirvana stuff and I’m sure if it weren’t for that we wouldn’t have had interest from a major at all. We wanted to do a record that wouldn’t alienate our fans, but we wanted to do one that we would like.
We also knew we weren’t gonna be dusting off a platinum album any time soon, you know? We did a bunch of sessions with Kurt Cobain [producing], but it got to the point where he was so out of control that we basically fired him and went our separate ways, which is unfortunate, because I think that would have been fun. Obviously, that was a little snapshot of what would end up happening and I don’t have a whole lot of fond memories of that – it was an absolute tragedy.”
Buzz’s recollections and sentiments were reinforced by Jonathan Burnside, an engineer on the Houdini album, who went on to say the following in the book I Found My Friends: The Oral History of Nirvana:
“It’s not easy reminiscing about making the album Houdini with Kurt Cobain and the Melvins. Bad communication, drugs, major label profiteering, rehab, schedule blowouts, backstabbing, and album miscrediting… it was a devil’s album.” Youch.
Buzz did eventually get Rage Against the Machine’s producer Garth Richardson for the project, but he always had kind words to say about Kurt after he passed away as well, thanking him for championing the band and saying:
“I never was jealous of their thing or thought that what they were doing, you know, it should be me. I always viewed their success and Nirvana’s success, and the fact that they talked about us as influences on them – I felt that was a massive compliment.
We changed music on a global level, because without us those bands wouldn’t have thought the way that they did. And I was very happy about that.”
In the end, though, Cobain was still given some co-production credit for the album, for guitar on ‘Sky Pup’ and interestingly enough, percussion on ‘Spread Eagle Beagle.’
Drugs obviously ended up being a huge part of Kurt’s sad demise, but Buzz was never one to buy into the whole rockstar thing. Even after all of the millions of dollars being thrown around, Kurt was still just the kid who he played music with and really liked his band.